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Government be an early and substantial customer of a private
sector system is an alternative which we believe warrants
With respect to international arrangements, we
believe it is too early to speculate on how an international
system might be formed.
Until the institutional structure
for the U. s. national ERIS program is resolved, it would
not appear productive to speculate on potential arrangements for an international system. These questions can best be
considered at a later time by the ERIS operator in conjunction
with interested Government agencies.
What are the proper Government/private sector relationships?
The reports prepared for the Committee contemplate
an increasing responsibility in the private sector for an operational ERIS. It is suggested that such transfer could
be facilitated if the Government were an early, major
customer of a private sector system.
However, while the
goal, and means, of early transfer of responsibility to the
private sector are suggested, the remaining discussion sets
forth two reasons why an early transfer should not take place.
First, with respect to the space segment, the report
assumes that a Landsat type system will form the basis of
ERIS and that the development costs of such a system "do not
appear to afford possibilities of practical private venture
for this class of satellite."
Given the costs for the first
Landsat-D mission of $290-330 million estimated by GAO, *
this statement is probably true, unless the Government were to lease a substantial portion of the satellite facility
from a private sector operator, as in the case of TDRSS.
However, the statement neglects the fact that technology
other than that used in the Landsat programs is available,
that such technology can satisfy requirements that cannot
be met by a Landsat type system, and that substantial cost
savings may be possible through use of such technology.
private sector investment in space segment facilities could
be contemplated if the market for particular kinds of data services and products justifies the investment risk.
Second, the report states that "public or international sensitivities probably mitigate against a private sector operation at this stage." No justification for
this statement is given nor is there any discussion whether arrangements can be envisioned which would satisfy legitimate
concerns with private sector ownership and operation of an ERIS. We believe there are means to protect those legitimate
*Report to the Congress by the Comptroller General of the United States, Landsat's Role in an Earth Resources Information System, PSAD-77-58 (1977).
interests and that private sector investment in an ERIS
need not be dismissed on such grounds.
A potential role for the private sector is seen
in the provision of a TDRSS type satellite-to-ground data
relay link for ERIS.
The report suggests that an appro
priate role for the private sector would be to supply such
a service "with the government buying a guaranteed level of
Given the cost of TDRSS services recently procured
by the Government ($781 million for ten years of service), use of a separate TDRSS type data link for ERIS probably
would result in such a high investment cost for ERIS so as
to preclude any private sector initiatives.
A more economical
alternative would be to use foreign earth stations and the
INTELSAT system for data relay.
The discussion of the data handling segment con
templates a centralized governmental activity which would
place all basic data products in the public domain. The role of the private sector would be limited to the provision
of "value-added services."
The effect of such scheme would
be to preclude private sector initiatives in the provision of space segment services as well as data handling services.
Obviously, if the Government in effect competes in the provision of data products to the public and to its own con
stituent agencies, the private sector would be precluded from such activity.
In summary, we believe that while it is recognized
that there are means by which to encourage private sector
initiatives with respect to establishment of an ERIS,
system assumptions are adopted which create an environment of
discouraging private sector initiatives. These system assumptions are based on the Landsat experimental programs
and we question their validity with respect to an operational
ERIS. Before the question of public/private sector relationships should be resolved, we believe it is first necessary to address the recognized deficiencies in the present experi
mental programs and then determine how the respective resources
and capabilities of the public and private sectors can be
applied to correct those deficiencies and provide the data
products and services which are desired by the user community.
What should be the involvement of not-for-profit organizations in ERIS?
The primary focus in the discussion materials regarding the role of not-for-profit organizations is in the
area of technology transfer.
While we agree training in the
use of ERIS data services and products is necessary
the user base and ensure the benefits of the technology are
widely distributed, the appropriate extent of actual tech
nology transfer raises significant questions regarding the
maintenance of U. s. technological leadership.
The role of
the not-for-profit institutions, therefore, should be
consistent with overall U. S. policies with respect to
the transfer of technology.
What are the possibilities for participation of other countries in ERIS and what are their responsibilities?
We agree that there are a number of arrangements
which can be envisioned for participation of other countries in ERIS. In the initial phases, it would appear that the primary concer
ern will be to ensure that effective utilization
of the system is available to foreign countries, consistent
lishment of an operational ERIS by the United States can
proceed prior to resolution of all questions involving
Who should operate the various segments of the system?
The reports prepared for the Committee assume
that the Government will operate the space segment of ERIS
and that NASA is a logical choice as system operator.